Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 124

Despite increasing doubts about its longevity, popular support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) remains firm, according to a recent opinion poll by the A & G research company, which was published in the daily Milliyet (June 30).

On June 14 and 15, A & G conducted face-to-face interviews with 2,403 respondents in 34 of Turkey’s 81 provinces. Of those questioned 30.3 percent said that they would vote for the AKP if elections were held immediately, down only slightly from 31.4 percent in a similar A & G poll in late April (see EDM, May 12) but still considerably below the 46.6 percent the party won in the July 2007 general election (see EDM, July 23, 2007).

This fall Turkey’s Constitutional Court is expected to announce a decision on the March 14 application by Public Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya for the AKP’s closure on the grounds that it had become a center of anti-secular activities (see EDM, March 17). Yalcinkaya also called for 71 current and former members of the AKP, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to be banned from political party membership for a period of five years.

Yalcinkaya’s application was triggered by the AKP’s attempt on February 9 to amend the constitution to create the legal framework for the lifting the ban on headscarves in Turkish universities. On June 5 the Constitutional Court annulled the amendments on the grounds that they were an attempt to undermine the principle of secularism enshrined in the country’s constitution.

When asked by A & G whether the AKP had made any mistakes, 35.6 percent cited the tension caused by the government’s attempts to lift the headscarf ban, followed by its failure to address the economic slowdown in the country (12.8 percent), populist policies such as postponing energy price hikes (11.0 percent), verbal attacks by party members on the judiciary (6.7 percent) and a failure to improve relations with the EU (3.3). Only 24.7 percent said that the party had not made any errors at all (Milliyet, June 30).

Most strikingly, even though 75.3 percent of those questioned said that the AKP had made mistakes, the A & G poll suggested that the support for opposition parties is declining. Only 12.7 percent indicated that they would vote for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), down from 17.1 percent in late April and compared with 20.9 percent in the July 2007 elections. Only 11.7 percent said that they would vote for the ultranationalist Nationalist Action Party (MHP), compared with 13.5 percent in April and 14.3 percent in July 2007. Another 15.2 percent of those questioned on June 14 and 15 replied that they would vote for minority parties, up from 13.3 percent in April; but the largest increase was in the number of those who were either undecided or did not reply, which stood at 30.2 percent, barely short of the share who said that they would vote for the AKP (Milliyet, June 30). In April, 24.7 percent were undecided.

Of those polled by A & G, 65.9 percent who said that they would vote for the AKP also said that, if the party were closed down, they would definitely vote for a successor party formed by former members of the AKP, even if Erdogan himself were not allowed to be a member. A further 15.6 percent indicated that they might vote for a successor party without Erdogan and 15.5 percent said that they definitely would not. The remaining 2.1 percent were undecided (Milliyet, June 30).

Taken together, the results of the A & G poll reinforce the longstanding impression that, almost regardless of the AKP’s performance, the current leaders of the two main opposition parties, Deniz Baykal of the CHP and Devlet Bahceli of the MHP, are unlikely ever to capture the public’s imagination and that there is considerable electoral potential for a new political party.

On June 30 a group of environmentalists and intellectuals formally applied to the Turkish Interior Ministry to establish the Greens Party (YP) (Radikal, Milliyet, NTV, June 30). Despite rapidly growing public awareness of environmental issues in Turkey, however, the YP is unlikely in the foreseeable future to attract either the funding or the electoral support to challenge the long-established parties.

More critically, there is currently no indication that either Baykal or Bahceli is prepared to make way for someone with the ability to attract sufficient public support to mount a credible challenge to the AKP. Baykal in particular has ruthlessly purged the higher echelons of the CHP of anyone bold enough to question his leadership. For reasons that have more to do with the party’s policies in the 1960s and 1970s than its record under Baykal, the CHP is a member of Socialist International (SI). Baykal had originally planned to attend the SI’s 23rd Congress in Athens, starting on June 30; but when he discovered that he was likely to be censured by his foreign colleagues for his authoritarian policies, he abruptly announced that he would not be traveling to Athens but would attend a Mulberry Festival in the provincial town of Ayas (Milliyet, Zaman, Radikal, June 30).